Chapter 167: Wen Lan
Qu Chenzhou rested for a while in the waterside pavilion before passing through the side gate and strolling slowly by the lotus pond.
He couldn’t freely move around in the palace, but he couldn’t stay cooped up in the Star Gazing Pavillion all the time either. The Emperor allowed him to have a southern bureau guard and a young eunuch accompany him around a few gardens to relax, around the time before and afterShen Shi.
Being surrounded by people was still somewhat uncomfortable, so he had instructed them to wait in a side hall while he completed a few rounds before returning.
The person he was supposed to meet hadn’t arrived yet.
Behind the rocks next to the Moon Cave Gate, someone suddenly let out a light chuckle, as if they couldn’t control their laughter and let it slip.
After that sound, everyone hiding behind burst into laughter and playful banter, as if teasing one another.
Qu Chenzhou stood by the railing of the lotus pond, just as he turned his head to look over there, he saw a girl wearing a light green palace dress being pushed out unsteadily. When she raised her head, their eyes met, and she let out a small scream before quickly hiding behind the rocks.
Laughter erupted from that side again, and a few curious heads popped out, looking at him with curiosity.
He glanced a few times and suddenly felt his heart skip a beat. He hesitated for a moment, had already turned around and taken a few steps, but eventually turned back and beckoned to them.
The young palace maids laughed, but none of them moved. It was only when Qu Chenzhou took a few steps forward and continued to beckon that the girl in the green dress was pushed out again.
Qu Chenzhou nodded at her and called out, “Come over here.”
“Me?” The girl blushed and looked around, confirming that he was indeed calling her before timidly moving her feet. “G… Greetings to Qu Si Tian.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m called Wen Lan.”
“A good name,” Qu Chenzhou looked up at the gazes focused on them and waved his hand. “Come with me to the side.”
Wen Lan felt a bit nervous. After all, the man in front of her was a stranger. She took a few steps and then stopped, asking, “What does Qu Si Tian want to instruct?”
“Wen Lan, since you know who I am, listen to my divination.”
“For me…?” Wen Lan was bewildered. “You want to divine for me?”
Qu Chenzhou nodded.
He now had more trust and freedom in the palace compared to when he first arrived. The Emperor knew that if he only divined for himself, he could only do it once every five days. But Qu Chenzhou might gather some information from others in the palace, just like the skeletal remains in the well and no longer restricted his divinations.
However, regardless of whom he divined for, it had to be recorded.
“Yes, you must remember,” he looked at the divination that stained the girl’s face with a striking blood-red color, and said seriously, “Within the next five days, do not leave your residence after Hai Shi.”
Wen Lan was frightened by his seriousness. It took her a while before she remembered to nod vigorously. “I understand! Thank you, Qu Si Tian.”
As if she had received some special honor, she smiled with a flushed face as she ran off, holding her dress.
Qu Chenzhou, however, couldn’t find it in himself to smile.
His intervention could change someone’s fate. Logically, if Wen Lan heeded his warning, the blood-red color that symbolized death should disappear.
But even until Wen Lan disappeared from his sight, the color remained unchanged.
He had spent enough time in the palace to know that he couldn’t be naive anymore. He understood that the life and death of any person could lead to unexpected turbulence.
You Shi had passed, and the person he was waiting for hadn’t appeared yet. He wasn’t in a hurry since the people around him frequently moved in the palace. If they had made up their minds, they would naturally come back to find him.
Before he could leave, footsteps and laughter could be heard coming from outside the Moon Cave Gate.
He recognized the voice of the person in front. It was the way he had to return, and it was impossible to avoid encountering them. So, he stood honestly by the lotus pond.
Besides Bo Yan, whom he was waiting for, there was also the Empress and Consort Yu. Seeing the slightly awkward look in Bo Yan’s eyes, he could guess that they coincidentally ran into each other on the way.
“Greetings, Empress, and greetings, Consort Yu,” he slightly bowed and then saluted with clasped hands. “Commander Bo.”
He was no longer the same as before. The Empress couldn’t fault him for such a shallow bow, but she still felt resentful.
Originally, with the Emperor’s attitude, she shouldn’t have bothered to find trouble for himself. But unfortunately, her son was not sensible.
By the time she received the news, Mu Jingzhao had taken the opportunity of Qu Chenzhou going to his residence for divination and eagerly given away his personal waist token.
How could such a token be given away casually? And how could it be accepted casually?
She angrily rushed to the Imperial Study to file a complaint, but she didn’t expect that after Qu Chenzhou returned to the palace, he had already presented the waist token and the floral stationery to the Emperor.
The Emperor listened calmly as she vented her anger, and surprisingly, he had both Qu Chenzhou and Mu Jingzhao summoned.
“Jingzhao is also grown up. Let him make his own decisions about his belongings.”
With these words from the Emperor, her disobedient son grew bolder and handed the waist token directly to Qu Chenzhou.
In that moment, she suddenly realized her own aging and powerlessness, but she watched as things that she once held in her hands slipped away like sand.
Qu Chenzhou was just a mirror that revealed the truth. Many things were perhaps beyond her control a long time ago.
“How coincidental,” she stood for a moment, gradually digesting her fatigue, and nodded slightly. “Qu Si Tian is here too.”
“Yes, I was just out for a walk before dinner and was planning to go back,” Qu Chenzhou smiled innocently at her and pointed backward. “I just came from there. The peach blossoms are in full bloom. Would Your Majesty like me to accompany you to take a look?”
“No need, Qu Si Tian. You can go back and rest.”
After failing to gain the upper hand in front of Qu Chenzhou several times, the Empress didn’t want to be too close to him. She preferred out of sight, out of mind.
Qu Chenzhou saluted again, walked past her, exchanged a glance with Bo Yan, and then passed by Consort Yu.
The Empress regained her composure, but before she could take a step, she heard Consort Yu exclaim, and palace maids rushed to support her, repeatedly saying, “Be careful, Niang Niang!”
Not only did the Empress turn her gaze, but Qu Chenzhou also stopped in his tracks. He saw Consort Yu’s hesitant attempt to cover her face with her hand, and he asked softly, “Did I startle you, Niang Niang?”
Before Consort Yu could respond, the Empress scolded, “Such flustered behavior, what kind of appearance is this!”
Consort Yu’s face turned pale, her breath unsteady, and she whispered, “Your Majesty, this concubine suddenly felt dizzy and couldn’t stand steady for a moment. It’s not because of Qu Si Tian.”
Qu Si Tian.
Just these three words were enough to make her heart race. Even though her son had scolded her for being timid several times, she had been actively avoiding him for the past few months.
But she didn’t expect to encounter him today.
It wasn’t until she was supported back to the Chaoyang Palace that Consort Yu gradually calmed down. The blankness in her mind slowly receded, and she regained the strength to think.
“I can’t continue like this…” she said softly, struggling to get up and retrieving her son’s token from the cabinet, which she affixed to her chest.
In fact, a month ago, her son had made arrangements and wanted to give it a try, but she was afraid and had been holding him back.
But now it seemed that avoiding him was not a long-term solution.
Qu Chenzhou rested his hands on his pillow, looking up at the dark canopy, without lighting the lamp. Yet, he couldn’t fall asleep at all.
On the other hand, Bo Yan’s side went smoothly.
Since Pei Xiao left the capital several years ago, Bo Yan couldn’t help but be alarmed by Fang Wuyang’s appearance.
Unless they were as deranged as Liao Guangming, their conscience should have fermented and expanded over the years.
He didn’t really need Bo Yan’s utmost conscience. Rather than saying he was thinking of using Bo Yan, it was more like giving Bo Yan a chance to repent, a chance to bridge the gap with the Liu family.
Bo Yan needed Fang Wuyang’s presence more than they did.
He couldn’t leave the palace, so as long as he gave the order to Liu Zhongming, it would be fine. But there was another person who made him uneasy.
It had been four days since he encountered Consort Yu. At that time, he couldn’t give Consort Yu a divination. Although he could do so these past few days, he hadn’t been able to see her.
Consort Yu appeared uncertain every time she saw him, and he naturally knew where the ghost in Consort Yu’s heart resided. However, he could never glean any information from the divinations, and this familiar yet unsettling feeling bothered him.
The former Huai Wang was also adept at exploiting the five-day intervals between his divinations. Otherwise, how could he be completely oblivious to such a terrifying plot as forcing his way into the palace?
He suddenly remembered what Liu Zhongming had said last time—the main force behind the plot was the garrison at Ten Li Pavilion.
It’s no wonder they haven’t met before.
Qu Chenzhou turned over, unsure if he had thought for too long or if it was time to sleep, as his headache intensified.
Many harsh realities remained unchanged compared to before.
For example, the Empress, Huai Wang, the garrison at Ten Li Pavillion, the information brought back by Rong Jiuan about the numerous privately hidden slave-army troops scattered throughout the land.
If one were to think optimistically, many things have improved compared to the past. He was no longer as ignorant as before, and he wasn’t alone either.
His heart thumped.
Having come this far, did he still think he was not alone…
No matter how complex the clues were, no matter how intense the situation, he could calm himself and unravel them step by step. But when it came to Liu Zhongming, his mind became a muddle.
Perhaps he should hate Liu Zhongming. Hate him for repeatedly doubting him, for the physical pain inflicted, for the treacherous acts—how could he forget?
But he didn’t know how to hate either.
Every action of Zhongming’s was meticulously planned by him, without any deviation. He could guess everything, while Zhongming remained clueless.
In his past life, being alive was a heart-wrenching pain for him, and Liu Zhongming was his redemption and escape.
In this life, he had more important things to do, and Liu Zhongming became the stepping stone for his success.
Actually… it should be Liu Zhongming who hated him, hated him for deceiving, for not being honest, for leaving behind all the unavoidable realities.
It was because he had tried to find closure to all the past evasions that he couldn’t face the hundreds of piercings in the illusion, shaping a new version of himself, blurred and bloody.
He didn’t dare to face Liu Zhongming, nor did he dare to contemplate what would happen if, once again, he sacrificed himself for Liu Zhongming’s sake. Would Liu Zhongming go mad?
He never regretted entering the palace, but he didn’t know how to confront Liu Zhongming.
Light footsteps ascended the stairs, and he immediately sat up. After a moment, he heard the soft voice of the eunuch attending downstairs say, “Qu Sitian, are you asleep?”
“No, what’s the matter?” He put on his clothes and went to open the door.
“The Gonggong from the Emperor’s side has arrived and said to summon you.”
Previously, Emperor Yu would occasionally summon him, either for a massage or to chat about various matters. Once he felt tired, he would let him return.
Qu Chenzhou responded and allowed the eunuch to come in and help him dress properly before going downstairs to meet the visitor.
Indeed, it was the Gonggong from the Emperor’s side. He had seen him before, but when Qu Chenzhou glanced at the man, his heart still skipped a beat.
To ensure the Emperor’s safety, those around the Emperor naturally required his close attention as well.
But just when he was anxious about Consort Yu’s situation, suddenly encountering someone who couldn’t be divined always made him very uneasy.
When he looked back at the eunuch guarding the gate, he already understood in his heart.
The same time, the same reason for being summoned by the Emperor—this situation was also experienced in his previous life.
“Qu Sitian,” the Gonggong carried a lantern and smiled gently as he made a polite request, “Today, I must trouble Qu Sitian once again.”
Qu Chenzhou nodded and asked the eunuch at the gate about the time.
“The third quarter of the Dog hour.”
“Qu Sitian, let’s go,” the man urged.
He followed and walked out, standing on the steps of the Star Gazing Pavillion, gazing at the eaves and corners of the houses swallowed by the darkness in the distance.
If someone didn’t allow him peace, he didn’t mind going with the flow.
In a pitch-black space, Liu Zhongming suddenly opened his eyes. It was still dark, the darkest moment before dawn.
The boundary between dreams and reality seemed as thin as a window paper, abruptly returning him to the present. But his heart was pounding heavily, as if still trapped in a nightmare.
Before he could gather his senses, clear footsteps could be heard in the courtyard, sprinting towards this direction.
It was the trusted confidant he arranged in Jinxiu Ying.
The person called out just once at the front door before immediately pushing it open, standing outside the folding screen, breathing heavily.
“There’s news from the palace, saying something happened to Qu Sitian!”
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